Poland’s prime minister has stepped into a row over a statue of Pope St John Paul II in Ploërmel, a town in Brittany.

France’s top administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, has ruled that a large cross over the 25ft-high statue of John Paul in prayer must be removed as it contravenes a 1905 law banning any “religious sign or emblem” in a public space, upholding France’s strict separation of church and state.

Beata Szydło, prime minister of Poland, has offered to have the statue moved to Poland, to rescue it from “the dictates of political correctness”. She said that religious censorship was undermining the values of Europe.

“Our great Pole, a great European, is a symbol of a Christian, united Europe,” she said, adding that secularisation and the dictatorship of political correctness were “alien to our culture, which leads to terrorising Europeans in their everyday life”.

The argument has been raging ever since the statue, by Russian artist Zourab Tsereteli, was erected in 2006, with strong feelings voiced on both sides. The secularist National Federation of Free Thought campaigned to have it removed, and the court has now agreed that the cross must go, stating that its “presence in a public location is contrary to the law”. The Church has called the court’s decision “balanced” but conservative and Front National politicians have expressed dismay.

Valérie Boyer, an MP for the Republicans party formerly led by Nicolas Sarkozy, asked: “When will this madness consisting of trying to erase our roots end?” Patrick Le Diffon, the mayor of Ploërmel, has suggested selling the public land to a private investor.

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